Winner of the 2019 Newbery Medal
Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.
Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren't going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what's going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.
|Product dimensions:||6.50(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.62(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Meg Medina was named one of the CNN 10 Visionary Women in America and received the Pura Belpré Author Award for her young adult novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. She is also the author of the novels Burn Baby Burn and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind and the picture books Mango, Abuela, and Me and Tía Isa Wants a Car, for which she received an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. Meg Medina lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her family.
Read an Excerpt
To think, only yesterday I was in chancletas, sipping lemonade and watching my twin cousins run through the sprinkler in the yard. Now, I’m here in Mr. Patchett’s class, sweating in my polyester school blazer and waiting for this torture to be over.
We’re only halfway through health and PE when he adjusts his tight collar and says, “Time to go.”
I stand up and push in my chair, like we’re always supposed to, grateful that picture day means that class ends early. At least we won’t have to start reading the ﬁrst chap-ter in the textbook: “I’m OK, You’re OK: On Differences as We Develop.”
“Coming, Miss Suárez?” he asks me as he ﬂips off the lights.
That’s when I realize I’m the only one still waiting for him to tell us to line up. Everyone else has already headed out the door.
This is sixth grade, so there won’t be one of the PTA moms walking us down to the photographer. Last year, our escort pumped us up by gushing the whole way about how handsome and beautiful we all looked on the ﬁrst day of school, which was a stretch since a few of us had mouthfuls of braces or big gaps between our front teeth.
But that’s over now. Here at Seaward Pines Academy, sixth-graders don’t have the same teacher all day, like Miss Miller in the ﬁfth grade. Now we have homerooms and lockers. We switch classes. We can ﬁnally try out for sports teams.
And we know how to get ourselves down to picture day just ﬁne — or at least the rest of my class does. I grab my new book bag and hurry out to join the others.
It’s a wall of heat out here. It won’t be a far walk, but August in Florida is brutal, so it doesn’t take long for my glasses to fog up and the curls at my temples to spring into tight coils. I try my best to stick to the shade near the building, but it’s hopeless. The slate path that winds to the front of the gym cuts right across the quad, where there’s not a single scrawny palm tree to shield us. It makes me wish we had one of those thatch-roof walkways that my grandfather Lolo can build out of fronds.
“How do I look?” someone asks.
I dry my lenses on my shirttail and glance over. We’re all in the same uniform, but some of the girls got special hairdos for the occasion, I notice. A few were even ﬂat-ironed; you can tell from the little burns on their necks. Too bad they don’t have some of my curls. Not that everyone appreciates them, of course. Last year, a kid named Dillon said I look like a lion, which was ﬁne with me, since I love those big cats. Mami is always nagging me about keeping it out of my eyes, but she doesn’t know that hid-ing behind it is the best part. This morning, she slapped a school- issue headband on me. All it’s done so far is give me a headache and make my glasses sit crooked.
“Hey,” I say. “It’s a broiler out here. I know a shortcut.”
The girls stop in a glob and look at me. The path I’m pointing to is clearly marked with a sign.
MAINTENANCE CREWS ONLY.
NO STUDENTS BEYOND THIS POINT.
No one in this crowd is much for breaking rules, but sweat is already beading above their glossed lips, so maybe they’ll be sensible. They’re looking to one another, but mostly to Edna Santos.
“Come on, Edna,” I say, deciding to go straight to the top. “It’s faster, and we’re melting out here.”
She frowns at me, considering the options. She may be a teacher’s pet, but I’ve seen Edna bend a rule or two. Making faces outside our classroom if she’s on a bathroom pass. Changing an answer for a friend when we’re self-checking a quiz. How much worse can this be?
I take a step closer. Is she taller than me now? I pull back my shoulders just in case. She looks older somehow than she did in June, when we were in the same class. Maybe it’s the blush on her cheeks or the mascara that’s making little raccoon circles under her eyes? I try not to stare and just go for the big guns.
“You want to look sweaty in your picture?” I say.
In no time, I’m leading the pack of us along the gravel path. We cross the maintenance parking lot, dodging debris. Back here is where Seaward hides the riding mow-ers and all the other untidy equipment they need to make the campus look like the brochures. Papi and I parked here last summer when we did some painting as a trade for our book fees. I don’t tell anyone that, though, because Mami says it’s “a private matter.” But mostly, I keep quiet because I’m trying to erase the memory. Seaward’s gym is ginormous, so it took us three whole days to paint it. Plus, our school colors are ﬁre- engine red and gray. You know what happens when you stare at bright red too long? You start to see green balls in front of your eyes every time you look away. Hmpf. Try doing detail work in that blinded condition. For all that, the school should give me and my brother, Roli, a whole library, not just a few measly text-books. Papi had other ideas, of course. “Do a good job in here,” he insisted, “so they know we’re serious people.” I hate when he says that. Do people think we’re clowns? It’s like we’ve always got to prove something.
Anyway, we make it to the gym in half the time. The back door is propped open, the way I knew it would be. The head custodian keeps a milk crate jammed in the door frame so he can read his paper in peace when no one’s looking.
“This way,” I say, using my take-charge voice. I’ve been trying to perfect it, since it’s never too early to work on your corporate leadership skills, according to the manual Papi got in the mail from the chamber of commerce, along with the what- to- do- in- a-hurricane guidelines.
So far, it’s working. I walk us along back rooms and even past the boys’ locker room, which smells like bleach and dirty socks. When we reach a set of double doors, I pull them open proudly. I’ve saved us all from that awful trudge through the heat.
“Ta- da,” I say.
Unfortunately, as soon as we step inside, it’s obvious that I’ve landed us all in hostile territory.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
*I received this book as an ARC but all thoughts and opinions are my own* This was a good book. Of course, it's from my self proclaimed favorite contemporary genre: MG; Latine-kid-has-life-changes-something-happens-with-grownup-they-rely-on. My favorite thing was that racism wasn’t the setting of this book. Of course, those experiences are important and real, and should be written about but I think it’s just as important to write stories where that is not the setting-where the characters are dealing with other things, too. It wasn’t that it was totally ignored or not mentioned but it wasn’t the center of the book. Being Latine was normal. Another thing I liked was that when the school staff noticed the bullying Merci was undergoing they actually did something about it. Exactly because that’s so unrealistic it’s important to write (and for teachers’ to read). Something that other people have mentioned is the uncomfortable feeling of being poor when everybody around you is rich and the inability at times to communicate across that line that was written well in the book. The only thing I didn't like was that it was supposed to be Merci's second year in the school but it felt like she had been in the school a much shorter time-half a year at most. Definitely go get get this book. Especially if you know kids who are in the age range for it.
Sixth grade is a hard time for any girl, it is even tougher when you aren't like the other kids in your school. Merci and her brother are scholarship kids, they work hard to attend and give back by working for the tuition. Merci's beloved grandfather, LOLA has Alzheimer's but Merci doesn't know what that is and is confused by his forgetfulness. As Merci navigates through her school life her real life follows a similar course. I read this book (which I understand is a NEWBERRY Prize winner) and I was thrown back to the toughness of being in my last year of grade school. The drama of jealousy, the confusion of changing bodies, the hardship of watching family get older all came back. What I loved about Merci is how adaptable, lovable and strong she is. Meg Medina grasps the world of a 12 year old and brings all the emotions to the surface with wit and real life feel. I enjoyed this book so much I recommended it to my nieces and to patrons of the library I know have kids close to Merci's age. Thanks to Netgally for allowing me to review this book in lieu of my honest review.
Merci Suarez Changes Gears has become one of my favorites of the year. I'd never read a book by Meg Medina and after finishing the book I sought to remedy it, so I already have Burn Baby Burn at the ready for later. In this middle grade, Medina explores the life of a sixth grader named Merci as she has to live a sort-of double life between her Southern Florida elite private school, Seaward Pines Academy, and Las Casitas, home to her Latinx family. Her household is divided into three houses, all of their members coming and going comfortably between each one. There's Merci's dad who has a painting company, her mom who's a physical therapist, her brother who's a genius senior at their school, her aunt and twin little cousins, and her paternal grandparents. At school, Merci has to work hard to keep her grades up in order to keep her scholarship. She has to survive catty classmates and overbearing faculty members that want Merci to befriend a new kid. She doesn't know how to fit in, often gravitating toward the more popular kids, even as she knows they don't like her that much. Back home, she deals with her family's economic problems, seeing the contrast between her classmates' opulence and her own family's struggle to stay afloat. Merci doesn't know how to fit in at school, but at home she is at ease; she helps keep an eye on her little cousins, hangs out with her grandfather, helps her father's soccer team win little scrimmages. And even though Merci doesn't really understand how to fit in, she's very convinced about who she is, which is surprising to see. She's a fantastic soccer player and she loves her family (even when they can be a pain), her photography, and riding her bike. She might not now how to handle the code-switching that is being asked of her, or even how to deal with mean girls, but she's snarky, ambitious, and a hard-worker. At its core, Medina's book is a study on the real pressures that young kids have to live with, be they familial ones, the ones created by their peers, and those that have been internalized. Most of the time they're brushed over, seen as inconsequential because they're kids and adults say ignorance is bliss. If they can keep the kid isolated from the problems that exist outside of them, they'll stay happy. But kids are intuitive, they can empathize and observe the people around them and absorb all that the universe is throwing their way. Merci's intuition shines through especially when it concerns her grandfather. When she starts noticing his forgetfulness, loss of balance, and mood swings, she keeps those things a secret. Modeling her family's behavior, she hides her feelings about her grandfather's continued decline in health. Her hurt and sense of betrayal at the news of her grandfather's diagnosis was impactful, especially when she starts demanding her family tell her what's happening. (Apparently I don't have space to continue my review, but you can find it on my wordpress blog @ boricuareads)
There is something about middle school books and mean girls that just go together. And this book is no exception. But Merci is more than just another protagonist, fighting the good fight against the mean girls of the world. She is also a Cuban-American, who is living with her extended family in Florida, with her beloved grandparents, aunt, and twin cousins. I love how tight she is with her family, that she cares about them. That she wants to do right by them, despite not liking watching the twins all the time. She is proud of her grandmother who can sew anything, and often does. She loves her father's painting company, and is not ashamed of him for doing manual labor, while all her classmates' parents are doctors and lawyers and business executives. Merci is a down to earth girl, and you feel her problems and she is very real. And although there are Spanish words sprinkled throughout, they are always used in context, so you can usually figure out what she is talking about. And excellent read, and a good for inclusion, for children to see themselves in Merci. Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
Growing up is full of complicated changes and Merci Suarez is learning how complicated life can get. Dealing with changing friendships, harder classes, and changing family life is proving to be overwhelming. Merci is starting sixth grade at Seaward Pines Academy, a private school that she attends on a scholarship. Merci isn't showing up to school in a fancy SUV, she's showing up in her father's work van he uses for his painting business. Instead of expensive vacations at the beach, Merci spends her weekends working alongside her dad or babysitting her cousins. Also, no fancy houses for the Suarez family-they live in a group of three pink houses where are all family members come and go, regardless of who lives where. All of this is starting to make Merci frustrated about the things she doesn't have but when her grandfather's dementia becomes worse, Merci learns that her tight-knit family has everything they really need. A wonderful story that shows the pressures children feel in school to be successful and how that pressure is amplified when you're constantly trying to prove that you belong. The author did an excellent job of depicting real childhood friendships and how popularity affects everyone. The Suarez family felt so real-the way they worked together, ate together, shared childcare, and how events in the story really impacted them. It was all written with such heart and feeling. A thoroughly enjoyable read that I can't wait to add to the shelf. Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book. All opinions are my own.